06 March 2015

Oh those 'pissu-weda' (crazy things) options!

Life is made of so many factors and living is a matter of picking or being persuaded to pick one out of many possible pathways into tomorrows that are either blurry or if clear could even turn out to be illusion.  We like to think that life can be planned to perfection or if not generally willed to walk certain paths but the imponderables weigh in and say ‘present’.  We decide within given frames and in our ignorance and arrogance claim ‘I did it my way’.  We don’t say that we were constrained to ‘do it’ in a particular way or at least in one of a few available ways.   

I wrote about a talented 7 year old boy (‘Will Devindu Senal Herath be our next Sanath Jayasuriya?’). Where will he be 7 years from today? I don’t know. Neither does his father.  All I know is smiling cynically to myself when I was 12 years old when my father, in one of his imparting-wisdom moments, told his sons that while it was likely that we had figured out what we wanted to do and be when we grow up these dreams and ambitions have a way of changing.  I understood the logic but was firm in my conviction: I would become a bikkhu and that was that.

It will be the same with Devindu.  All we know is that he is one of many who are talented in many ways.  What he does or does not do with it is a question that time will answer. 

One thing is clear. He’s not alone.  There are probably others who would also be good at all the things he’s good at or an equal number of other disciplines. Many of them would never know how good they would be at gymnastics or chess, for example.  Neither is it there fault nor should someone like Devindu be grudged for being better positioned socially and economically to explore more fully the dimensions of potential. 

My good friend and classmate from Grade 2-4, Harsha Wickramasinghe, now at the Sustainable Development Authority, engineer, singer, philosopher and patriot, made some further observations. 

‘What we lack is opportunities for these gifted children.  If such a student attempts to go in an unorthodox line (orthodox being doctor, engineer etc.) his family and friends will take issue with him: "Pissu Kelinna Epa..." (Stop playing the fool!).  This is very true, because if he goes in his choice of path, he will end up as a 'Paadada' (unacceptable, outcast) character (yes, you and Rajitha Dissanayake came to my mind...!).  Only the real diehards will survive to reach the blissful careers of their choice.’  

It is never easy to pick a path in a challenging social and economic environment. And there are not guarantees that we will pick wisely either.  Our children are required to pick Arts, Commerce, Biology or Mathematics when they are just 16 years old.  Nine times out of ten, if the child has done well enough to pick any stream, the choice is made by parents.  When the bright boys and girls pick ‘maths’ or ‘bio’ (and since of late, commerce) there is little compulsion to choose subjects like political science, Sinhala, history, geography, Pali, Sanskrit etc.  What’s worse is that the system is too rigid to encourage a re-consideration of choice.  So, unless you’ve picked wisely, you end up devoting a lifetime to a field that is not your primary interest. 

At the age of 16, no one can tell what would sustain interest over a long period of time, what indeed one is best at etc.  A child should not be made to encounter such a decision-point at that age. It should arrive much later.  Fortunately, children of today have far more options than those of a generation or two ago.  They can pick themselves up.  Not all do, because there’s a perverse cultural fixation about sticking with decision, erroneous though it may prove to have been.  There are more options now than before for those who realize fault and have the courage to acknowledge and correct.  It comes at a huge cost though and changing course is not something everyone can afford.

But Harsha is speaking of something else.   There are pathways in addition to those named Arts, Bio, Maths and Commerce.  In the rare instance you would get a committed academic willing to do the hard yards pertaining to contributing to the sum total of human knowledge on a particular subject who would also make the time to bring to fruition the union of talent, passion and discipline in a totally different field (or one that is perceived to be different).  Tanya Ekanayaka, a senior lecturer in the English Department at Peradeniya is finishing her doctoral studies in linguistics but the rigors of academe has not stopped her from pursuing her passion for music; she is an accomplished and acclaimed concert pianist.  In the ‘either/or’ of decision, not every one can see ‘both’ and those who do not would tend to turn back on the pissu-weda (Crazy Things) option.

It is rare for a parent (who naturally harbours many fears about the future, real and imagined) to advocate outright the less-trodden path.  We all forget that the end of the path yields not that which is promised at turn-off point but what we make of the journey.  We can fumble and fall, get tripped and bruise our knees or be run over by our own haste and error on the neatly laid highway to heaven.  No one tells us this.  Instead we have heaven and hell signs at each and every fork in the road without the caveat ‘this is perception and not necessarily the truth’.   

There is no tragedy in a gifted child ending up doing nothing related to the talents he or she seemed endowed with.  What matters is whether or not the exploration of these spheres empowers with sensitivity, courage and the humility to open oneself to perceive the eternal verities.  At worst they would be indulgent if their own children chose the pissu-weda pathway to heaven or hell (as the case may be). 

Speaking strictly for me, I believe we are short of crazy people so I wish more power to those we have.  As someone put it, ‘thank goodness for the cracks (slang for ‘the insane’), for they let the light in’.  Thankfully, the better cracked will come through not because of system flaw but in spite of it.  That’s something to think about.  

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com. This article was first published in the 'Daily News', March 5, 2011.


Jani Bee said...

Pissu wada often collide with social constructs and stereotypes. So it's a matter of being mama's good boy / dada's good girl or the prodigal who has to retrace his steps back to the family round the wicket :) I feel that's the norm still In sri Lanka. The only difference that time has done to it could be, just that the diversity of streams have become wider and short cuts have become cruder :)